Expert’s corner: Scour vaccine protocols for dairy beef calves

Posted on February 10, 2022 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Dr. Trey GellertFour Star Veterinary Service, LLC

One-day-old dairy beef calves need to be set up for long-term success. Starting these calves with the end goal in mind will lead to a mutually beneficial relationship for the producer and calf. Many important components go into raising these dairy beef calves – including colostrum management, nutrition, and the environment – but the topic of this article will be the importance of targeted vaccine strategies.

It is critically important to vaccinate dairy beef calves because these calves may be co-mingled or stressed, or have unknown colostrum intake, colostrum quality, or dairy farm disease pressure. Co-mingled calves bring the diseases from many different farms onto one farm, which can combine different diseases. Stressing these calves may weaken their immune systems, setting them up for failure from the start. These factors make the dairy beef calf unique and different compared to youngstock from typical cow/calf and dairy operations.

Vaccines are a way to help manage disease pressure on your farm. Vaccinating for common diseases is the approach I like to take when vaccinating dairy beef calves. In dairy beef calves the first 14 days is the most critical time frame as the calf may experience differing levels of scours and dehydration. Dehydration is the number one killer of calves in the first 60 days of life. The three major categories of diseases that may cause scours are viruses, bacteria and parasites.

1. Viruses
Viruses that may cause scours include coronavirus and rotavirus. These can be managed via oral vaccines that typically need to be given within the first 12 to 24 hours of life to have a positive effect. Dairy beef calves are often past the 24-hour mark when they are received, so managing through viral diarrhea via fluid therapy to assist in rehydration of the calf is the typical course of action.

In some instances, with known sourcing, we can work with a dairy to implement viral vaccine intervention. It is important to manage viruses in your vaccine strategy because viruses may predispose calves to a bacterial scour, which can lead to a more complicated issue. Antimicrobials have no effect on viruses, so the best route to manage them is through vaccinations.

2. Bacteria
Bacteria that may cause scours include E. Coli, Salmonella, and Clostridium. Vaccinating within the first 14 days for these is important to help minimize the disease pressure and allows the calves some immunity to fight off these bacteria. Some oral vaccines can help manage E. Coli, but these must be given within the first 12 to 24 hours of life to be efficacious. Injectable vaccines are available to address these three bacteria, but it takes 10 to 14 days to reach a full immune response.  Antimicrobials have some effect against these bacteria, but I prefer to prevent a problem before it develops.

3. Parasites
Parasites that may cause scours include Cryptosporidium parva, coccidia and Giardia. No vaccines work against these parasites, so a cleaning and disinfection protocol along with targeted treatment plans to minimize the disease pressure are the best tools.

Timing is everything
Timing of the vaccines is of utmost importance. We want to prevent the problem, so getting the vaccines into animals prior to the disease challenge is the goal. Usually, getting some vaccine into these calves within the first seven to 14 days is preferred because this is when the most severe scours are present. Timing the vaccine appropriately so as not to stress the calf should also be considered. Work with your herd health veterinarian to develop an action plan to identify your farm’s disease pressure and implement vaccines targeted to your individual needs.

Editor’s note:  In his next article, Dr. Gellert will discuss targeted respiratory vaccine strategies.

Category: Animal health
Dairy beef production
Starting Strong - Calf Care